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How to Find Your Calling When You Don’t Know What You Want
Some people could go their entire life, or at least a few decades, working in a career path that was either chosen for them, or it was just something that they ended up into for one reason or another.
They may be in healthcare, or finance, or in some sort of law enforcement or legal capacity. Whatever it is, you may be finding yourself in a career path that wasn’t really what you expected when you were younger, or even 10 years ago.
And now, later on in life, you’re wondering if there’s a better path? You’re wondering if there’s still time for a change into something that makes you feel like it’s a much better fit for you and for your life.
Is there something that you could be doing that fits like a glove?
Now since this podcast is all about starting an online business, I’m going to assume that the topic of finding your calling and starting a business are one and the same. Because it can be. And it should be. You shouldn’t be investing your time and energy…and hard earned dollars into something that isn’t fulfilling for you and for those that you’re serving in your business.
Now in the last episode, I talked a little about getting ‘there’ from here. And here we are again, dealing with the same thing but in a different way.
How do you transition out of what we’re doing into something that we truly love that will make us feel fulfilled? What’s your one true calling?
It’s a simple little question, isn’t it? Which is why it’s so appealing. If we all really do have one true calling, then the secret to having a fulfilled life is as simple as finding and pursuing that calling... right?
But what if you don’t know what your calling is? What if you aren’t even sure you have one? And is there only one?
It can be tempting to treat callings like the perfect pair of jeans. Try on enough of them, and eventually one’s going to fit you exactly right. And so we hop from job to job, or even business to business, searching for ‘that one’ that will finally show us, once and for all, what we were put on this Earth to do. Not only is this exhausting; it can leave us feeling even more lost and confused than we were before!
But maybe we’re looking at it from the wrong perspective. Maybe we have it backwards. Maybe we aren’t meant to find our calling at all. Maybe our calling was meant to find us.
If you have no idea what your calling is, this could be good news for you. It means you can give yourself permission to stop searching so hard. It does not mean giving up on the possibility of a fulfilled life and business venture. You’re probably not going to find your calling by looking for it, but there are things you can do to help your calling find its way to you.
Let go of the idea that everyone has “one true calling.”
Some people seem to know from birth what they were meant to do. They live and breathe this ‘one thing’ and it’s so obvious to them. Maybe it came from their upbringing and their parents, or maybe they were just able to figure it out on their own through high school or college courses.
But most of us don’t, and that’s OK! Callings aren’t an all-or-nothing deal. You might go through different ‘seasons’ and feel different callings at different times in your life. So rather than ask yourself, “What’s my one and only true calling?”, try asking instead, “What’s the calling for me right now?” And see where that leads you.
Do more of what brings you joy.
The key here is to do the thing that really brings joy into your life. Not just happiness, but real joy. There is a difference. Joy is a powerful emotion. Whatever brings you joy, do more of it. When we do the things that bring us deep joy, the callings have a way of showing up, too.
But remember now, we’re talking about finding our calling in the business realm, too. We’ve got to keep in mind that from a business perspective, we need to make some significant money doing what we love to do as well. There’s a marriage between the two concepts here of doing what we love to do, and making good money doing it.
Follow your frustration.
So what problems do you see in the world that stands out and frustrates you? What one thing drives you crazy and what about it do you want to fix or make better? Make friends with that frustration. Get curious about it. Follow it. And don’t be surprised if a calling pops up somewhere along the path.
Remember what I said before in episode 24 last year, about the 3 critical steps to gain clarity? Asking 3 key questions:
• What ticks you off?
• What breaks your heart
• What big problem are you trying to solve?
Those questions will also help you to find your business calling as well.
Stay open to what could be.
A calling can be a funny thing. We seek it because we long for meaning and focus in life. We want to know why we’re here and what our lives are supposed to be all about, and sometimes we start down a path looking for our calling just to get rid of the pain of being in life’s limbo. But I don’t know of any calling that showed up fully formed, complete with an action plan and due dates. Callings come to us in hints and traces, steeped in possibility, uncertainty and even self doubt. But when possibility presents itself, don’t jump into action right away. Stay open. Give it some time to show you what could be.
As you think about those three questions and the answers to them, remember that callings don’t only show up in our careers. If you feel called to speak, or paint, or make music or write a book, do it! But only after you’re convinced that that ‘one thing’ hits that sweet spot in your life.
Afraid to fail at your calling? I’d say your chances of success are a lot higher, now that you’ve found your calling.
My wife was convinced that she was going to go into research when she was in college, but after being a teacher’s assistant for a little while, she knew that teaching was now her calling. And she’s been very successful at it as well.
I didn’t know how much I would like to do the coaching and consulting until I spent a couple of years helping an Executive Director of a non-profit organizational through a tough transition.
I didn’t know how much I would like to write…until I dug in and started writing. So now, I can crank away on the keyboard create content that helps people with their small business journey, but also, I tried my hand at writing something completely different just to see how it would go; a children’s story. Because I’m a Grandpa and I like to write.
Now, even though it came out pretty well, I also know that writing children’s stories isn’t in that ‘sweet spot’ for what I’m supposed to be doing. But I know that now, because I tried. I ventured out a little bit and wandered off the path a little just to see how it would go.
I’m glad I did it, but I’m also glad that I now have more confirmation of the path that I’m supposed to stay on.
How to Tell the Difference Between Your Life's Calling and a Whim
So, how do you tell if ‘that thing’ your thinking is your calling, is actually a calling and not just a whim?
We're all put here with different personalities, passions and skills. If you feel called to make art, then you were put here to make art. If you feel called to write, build, design, speak or be in research, then you were put here to do just that.
With all the possibilities out there in the world (especially living in the United States), it can be hard sometimes to make sense of what your true calling is and what's simply a fleeting desire or whim. Desires and whims are important and can be excellent tools in guiding you toward what you need next in your life, but it's important to distinguish between the two.
Whim: A sudden or impulsive idea.
Calling: A vocation, profession, or trade
So how can you distinguish between a calling and a whim?
1) A calling is magnetic and all-consuming.
Callings draw you toward them. They start as a tiny nagging thought or feeling, then begin to consume your mind and drive your everyday life. They can't be ignored. You'll feel a sense of urgency and a strong inclination to follow a calling, whereas a whim is usually fleeting.
Whims are impulsive and may feel as though they've come out of nowhere. Callings start deep inside of us, stirring and growing over time until they simply can't be ignored any longer. Ignoring a strong calling will leave you feeling frustrated, unfulfilled, antsy and very discontent with your life and career if these things are out of alignment.
2) The core focus of a calling is always present.
If you feel called to care for animals, build things, care for people, whatever it is, that will always drive you, regardless of how you choose to act on it. It won’t go away.
Whims, on the other hand, can vary a lot. There may be times you feel a desire to be active and experimental, stepping out of that comfort zone as I talked about in episode 41, while other times you might feel the opposite. Those feelings are great and important, but they’re also temporary.
3) Callings are about contributing to the world
Whatever you feel called to do, all callings are about contributing to the world to make it a better place, through your words, actions, presence and creations. This is why they matter.
Your views, experiences, voice and ideas are meant to be shared and your calling will have a unique perspective and identity to it. Your calling is as unique as you are.
Whims are more selfish and focused on you -- what you feel the desire or need to do for yourself in this moment. Achieving some sort of feeling, experience, knowledge or connection. Whims feed and fuel us, but they're narrow by nature.
So, what's calling you?
What drives you and everything you want to create in your life? What is that thing that matters most to you?
3 Things Your Calling Is Not
“I’m called to ‘teach, or I’m called to code computer games.”
Maybe you’ve heard someone say something similar to this to explain why they do what they do. And we just went through some of the characteristics of what a calling is, but now, I think we should go over a few things of what your calling is not.
1. Your Calling Is Not for You
No doubt each person is called and gifted individually, but a true understanding of calling recognizes that we’re called not for just personal gratification but for the good of others. This others-focus flies against the individualistic and self-interested spirit of our age.
As I said a little while ago, your calling is about contributing to the world.
Rather than asking, “What will make me the most money and give me the most status?” We should be asking, “How can I use my existing abilities and opportunities, to help others?”
But we need to be careful to not confuse our job with our calling. While for some the two are intertwined (like the role of a Pastor), callings often encompass a broader realm; like the good of society, or family, and church.
Some people find their callings in spheres other than the workplace—my daughter and daughter in law who turned down jobs so they can devote themselves to their children; the independently wealthy man who does not need to work, so he devotes himself as a concerned citizen and volunteers with a non-profit organization, and the list could go on and on.
Young or old, weak or strong, successful or unemployed, we’re each able to fulfill callings to care for others and make the world a better place.
So, practically, one simple way to discover your calling is to figure out how you can best serve others with the gifts and abilities God has given you.
2. Your Calling Is Not from You
We don’t choose our callings; by definition, we’re called to them. As a Christian, I’m of the perspective that God calls us; we don’t call ourselves.
Of course there is human element in all we do. We plan our ways, but God establishes our steps. But it’s in the forward motion of our efforts and what we’re doing that God makes the calling clear.
We find our callings with, by, and in serving others. And we fulfill our callings as others fulfill theirs.
The Executive Director of a non-profit Fresh Water Friends, found his calling by just making the decision with his wife to raise enough money with his friends to have a water well installed for an impoverished village.
After he saw how quickly the money was raised and how soon the well could be installed, he decided to do it again for another well. It’s from this experience that Fresh Water Friends was born into an official NPO with over 160 wells installed to date over the past few years.
He had a deep desire to help people that needed it and found his calling in the midst of that effort.
3. Your Calling Is Not Future Tense
Look at your life. Your calling could be whatever your life consists of right now.
God has placed you in a family, in a neighborhood, and hopefully in a church. Rather than worry about what’s next and try to figure out the future, we can usually find our calling in the present situation.
There’s nothing wrong with godly ambition or planning for the future. But in all that, make sure the emphasis is on faithfully serving God where you are until it’s clear—whether through a shift in desires, input from others, or a change in circumstances (usually a combination of these three)—that He is calling you to something else.
Signs You May Not Be Doing What You Are Called to Do
Not quite sure yet if you’re currently in your calling? Maybe you’re doing what you’re called to do and you just don’t know it?
Well, here are a few signs that you might not be doing what you’re called to do.
You Don’t Feel Fulfilled
If you simply don’t feel fulfilled, you are not living out your calling. Fulfillment is a feeling that stems from doing meaningful, purposeful things. Now, of course, life has its share of boring tasks and even boring days, but if every area of your life makes you feel unfulfilled, it’s time to ask God to reveal your calling to you.
You feel stuck
Similar to feeling fulfilled, but, yet distinctly different. If you feel stuck, you know that you want more from life but don’t have clear direction. You feel that you are not living according to God’s purpose for you, but can’t put your finger on what is making you feel this way. You may feel trapped or unsure.
Signs You Have Found Your Calling
So, if you want to now confirm that you’re in your calling, there are some signs you can look to that will make it obvious, that yes, you’ve found your calling.
It’s what you love to do.
It’s what you’re good at. It’s something that makes a difference. Sometimes it feels like it’s what you were put here, on this planet, to do. Finding your calling unlocks a brand-new level of passion and purpose. There’s a chance you’ve already found it, you just might not have realized.
Your actions match your plans
You make big plans and then you carry out the actions to match. There’s no disconnect between those lofty plans you have for yourself and the actions that follow every day. When you define your big plans you also make the small, preceding plans that you know will get you there. You’re excited with every part of the process, because they’re all leading to you fulfilling the vision you have for your life and your place in the world.
You reach a state of flow
You sometimes lose hours to what you’re doing. You begin, you get into it, and then you are in a state you feel like you could continue forever. You don’t want to be interrupted; you want to focus, improve and complete the task in front of you…all toward the master plan. Every little task gets you closer to the master plan. Somehow, you can just keep on going. You’re creating a masterpiece and it’s all falling into place.
You can’t be deterred
You wake up each day raring to get going and convinced of your journey. Other people have different plans for you. Other people don’t understand. But they don’t get to choose because you know what you need to do. You don’t need to be pep-talked into action to perform and you don’t need to be hyped up to get moving forward. You’re self motivated and it comes easy.
You suspect you’re onto something
When you think of the future, of where this might lead, you feel unwavering confidence. You’re onto something and you know it, maybe others don’t yet. Whatever you’re doing, you know it has huge potential. You know you’re getting closer to its potential every day. You know it’s soon to change the world in a big way. Whether it’s the difference you’re about to make for others, or the example you’re going to set when you’re unleashed on the world; it’s coming and you can feel it.
If this was your life, until the day you died, you’d be satisfied. You’d leave earth knowing that you gave it your all, you did what you were put here to do, and you fulfilled your potential. What you do makes you happy, adds value, and is useful to others. Only your calling will take you there.
So have you found your calling, or should you keep looking? Be honest with yourself and work it out. You may be doing it right now, and just looking at it wrong. You may be on the brink of finding it, but you’re just one change away. Find your calling and your world changes.
If you’re wondering if it’s too late to start, it’s never too late. If you’re alive today, then you’ve got some time to figure it out.
“Well, Tom, what if I was in my calling but I blew it?” Why did it not work out? Was it really your true calling? Maybe you need to re-evaluate?
Friends, if you’re looking for your calling, it’s out there. It’s in you. I’ve found mine. I know you can find yours as well.
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